Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin is holding firm on his position and has failed to back rebel TD Alan Kelly as his potential successor ahead of an expected showdown over his leadership.
The party’s pre-Dáil gathering will kick off tomorrow in Drogheda, Co Louth, and is expected to be the scene of substantial debate on the leadership issue.
However, citing core support among members, Mr Howlin said he is not expecting any surprises.
“I think anybody who wanted to say something has been out there,” he told the Irish Independent.
“I think that everybody in the party, including Alan, wants the party to succeed. Some people are worried that we’re not making as rapid a progress as they would like.
“Changing the name on the door here on the party leader’s office is a wrong strategy. I think the rebuilding work is a groundwork. It’s connecting with individuals to bring them back to support the Labour party… that’s happening.”
Rebel TD Mr Kelly has publicly called for Mr Howlin to step down, saying the party has “failed to turn the ship around” in the past two-and-a-half years.
However, ahead of the think-in, Mr Howlin failed to back his challenger as his eventual successor.
When pressed on whether he believed Mr Kelly was the person to succeed him when he does step aside, he said: “I admire ambition, I applaud ambition and encourage ambition, but I’m sure there are several others who would be equally ambitious and that’s good for the party.
“There are probably followers for several people in the party. It’s all moot and irrelevant now, we have to have a common purpose.
“We certainly don’t need factionalism right now or that we have groupies around certain people. We have to work in common harness as a collective… I’m not thinking beyond my own leadership.”
Mr Howlin expects “robust discussion” this weekend, but said he is not going to shy away from it, citing a collective leadership approach.
“You can say I’m naïve, but I believe we’ll come out stronger from the couple of days,” he said.
“I will continue in my role as long as I believe I am contributing to the advancement of the Labour Party. I’m full of energy and the day that I believe I’m not contributing to the advancement of the Labour Party is the day I’ll think differently.”
But the challenge facing Labour is immense as it looks to recover from its drubbing in the last election. Mr Howlin said he expects a return of the voters who felt betrayed by the party during its time in coalition with Fine Gael.
While a future coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil has not been entirely ruled out, it appears Labour won’t be burned twice, with Mr Howlin saying it would have clear red lines that could not be reneged on.
“I think that as leader of the party I’d have a totally different approach. The first thing is we’d put down very clear Labour Party red lines on any government that we would support, and that’s what we’re working on,” he said.
“Unless we had very clear delivery of fundamental Labour policies, I certainly wouldn’t be interested in participating in any government.”
However, in the era of so-called “new politics”, a coalition is not necessarily the only option.
“I think there are different ways we could certainly support a government from the outside and I’d be open to develop how that might work.
“I would like to see if, with an agreed policy programme, ideally being delivered by a very strong Labour Party in government, but if that wasn’t possible certainly a policy platform that we could support on a case-by-case process,” he said.